THE MID 1800'S
Jacob Kibler left Missouri in 1853 to claim a land grant in Oregon Territory. But, where the Oregon Trail divided south to California and north to Washington Territory, Jacob's traveling companions robbed him, absconding with his belongings. After five years of fruitless searching for his former friends, Kibler made his way to the Walla Walla Valley with only a pack mule, a bedroll and twenty dollars. Jacob worked in a brickyard until he had enough money to buy a wagon and oxen, and then began freighting to and from the Idaho silver mines. In 1863, he filed a homestead claim for 160 acres on Mill Creek and seven years later was able to purchase an additional 160 acres from his neighbor David Buroker. In 1873, fifty-two year old Jacob Kibler married David Buroker's daughter, twenty-one year old Louisa. Jacob and Louisa's land was to the east of what is now Abeja.
THE 1900'S & THE KIBLER FARM
The Kiblers eventually had several thousand acres of wheat as well as timberland, plus four city lots in Seattle. Jacob and Louisa's second son David married Miss Katherin Clodius in 1900 and built their home on this property, which had been deeded to David by his father. Between 1903 and 1907, David and Katherine built all of the buildings on this land. At the peak of their farming, they were tending a thousand acres of wheat from this farmstead using mule-driven combines.
RESTORATION BEGINS AND THEN MILL CREEK INN
In 1986, Greg and Vanessa Finch purchased the farm, which had been lived in by members of the Kibler family for almost 100 years. By that time, only 42 acres remained and the farmstead was essentially derelict with most of the buildings in a state of abandonment and serious disrepair. Slowly, over a fourteen-year period, Greg and Vanessa began to clean up the individual buildings and eventually started the Mill Creek Inn. The Summer Kitchen and the Chicken Coop were the first two cottages to be restored.
Each of the farm buildings served important roles on the busy farmstead. The Bunk House ensured that the farmhands were always truly ready and at hand. By all accounts, Katherin Kibler was quite fastidious and resented the intrusion of dirty, dusty farmhands into her home, so hearty harvest meals were prepared and served in the Summer Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen was also used to preserve the bounty from the farm. The Chicken House, a farm essential, provided fresh eggs for breakfast and dinners of fresh, grain-fed, chicken. The Small Barn – now used for guest check in, breakfast, and wine tasting – served as the dairy. The large barn housed the horses and mules and now serves as our winery.
THE 2000'S AND MAJOR RESTORATION
At the turn of the next century, Ken and Ginger Harrison set out on their own journey to begin a winery. While searching for the perfect location, they stayed as guests of the Mill Creek Inn. The beauty of the farm immediately captured their hearts and sparked their imaginations. They were able to purchase the farm from the Finches in September of 2000 and immediately began the restoration of each building.
Companions in life and work, John Abbott and Molly Galt joined Ken and Ginger in the spring of 2002, forming a partnership. John began his winemaking career in the Napa Valley when, as a new college graduate, he went to work first for Pine Ridge and later for Acacia Winery. In 1994, he and Molly moved to Walla Walla to begin Canoe Ridge Vineyard, where he was the winemaker for nearly ten years and she was in charge of all on-site marketing and public relations. Proud of their success at Canoe Ridge, eventually both left to begin a winery again, but with a new focus and a new approach. A shared vision of quality and determination to be a leader in the future of Washington State Cabernet made the foursome a perfect team. The first wines of Abeja were released in the autumn of 2003. Since that time, the wines of Abeja have become well known and highly respected in each of their categories.
Since the year 2000, when Ken and Ginger took ownership of the property, numerous restoration projects have taken place. The Locust Suite and the Carriage House Suite were the first accommodations added to what had been three. During the winter of 2009, a second bedroom was added to the Carriage House Suite and the Edison House was completely restored. Meanwhile, the winery and its infrastructure went through a beautiful transformation. In the spring of 2011 the Hayloft Suite, located in the second story of the Small Barn, was completed. Spring of 2012 saw the opening of the new Chicken Coop. All the while, the gardens were being expanded, the vineyards planted, and the grounds improved.
Today, the splendor of the property, the hospitality, and the quality of the wine have firmly established Abeja in the Walla Walla community.
Preserving an old property, such as this one, is important to all of us who live and work here. It is part of the Walla Walla Valley’s history, and with a new purpose will continue to be for many years to come.